Skip to main content
School of Law

'The Lawyer as political actor'

Date: 16 November 2017

2017's Law and Society Lecture was delivered by Jolyon Maugham QC, on the subject of the "Lawyer as a Political Actor." Maugham asked, As the rule of law re-emerges as a vital and resilient pillar of the constitution, should lawyers extend their pro bono and use their skills to help rebuild society?

About the lecture

The text below, covering the lecture's topic was taken from Counsel Magazine's August Issue:

Back in 1992, the then obscure American academic Francis Fukuyama argued that we were witnessing the end of history. We had reached ‘the end point of mankind's ideological evolution’ and the ‘universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government’. Events have, it might be fair to say, tested Fukuyama’s hypothesis. The world around us is changing. It is changing in ways it has always changed. But it is changing in new ways too. And we as lawyers are responding. The drivers for that response differ. For some lawyers, it has always been part of the social compact that they make their professional skills available to those who might not otherwise be able to afford legal help.

Others – especially those working at the cutting edge – are seeing at first-hand the practical effects of the legal aid cuts. For those on the outside, with no way of accessing it, the law can look like a rich man’s taunt. And the appalling neglect of the concerns of residents of Grenfell Tower projected that taunt onto the widest of canvases. The history of our profession is rich with social engagement. I draw inspiration from what my friend, Stephen Ravenscroft, now a Partner at White & Case, told me about his Dad. Brian Ravenscroft worked in Bradford as the local solicitor. And every week, on Friday night, he would dispense legal advice at the kitchen table of the local Imam to a long line of worshippers from the mosque. And at 9pm sharp, the Imam would close the door on any stragglers and thank Ravenscroft (Snr) with endless bowls of curry. But what is new, perhaps, is the re-emergence of the law as a mechanic by which we seek to channel and deliver political imperatives. This may or may not be a good thing – there is room for reasonable people to differ. But, given the broader context, it is hard to argue against the proposition that it is necessary.

Even the most enthusiastic supporters of Brexit must have been faintly depressed by the last year. Our First-Past-the-Post system has not proven especially adaptable to political fractures that cross party lines. And the demands of interpreting the vague mandate of the Referendum result have paralysed the Executive. But not so much as to impede it in its attempts to wrest ever more power from the hands of Parliament.

But the rule of law, despite the best attempts of certain parts of the Fourth Estate, has emerged as the most vital and resilient pillar of our Constitution. There has been a silver lining. The Brexit result has shattered the complacency of the past. Orthodoxies – that a particular style of Western liberal democracy was secure – are under pressure.

And all across the political spectrum there is a clear sense that there are battles ahead that need to be fought and battles ahead that need to be won. And many more of us – from all across society and the legal profession – want to participate in those battles. The recent record of our political class is such that we no longer feel comfortable leaving in their hands the stewardship of our society. What happens now? What are the specific challenges for the profession?

But perhaps the most interesting question is this: How do we square the conceptual underpinning of the cab rank rule with a trend towards lawyers publicly aligning themselves personally and professionally with particular political stances? [continues]

*Taken from Counsel Magazine’s August issue.

Speaker Biography

Jolyon Maugham QC is a barrister and director of the Good Law Project. He has a predominantly litigation based practice in the fields of direct and indirect tax. He has particular expertise in avoidance, structured finance, intangible property, tax and judicial review, and employment taxation.

Jolyon took Silk in 2015. In January 2016, The Lawyer featured him as one of only 10 members at the Bar in their 'Hot 100 2016', which lists those lawyers regarded as the best in the business.

He is regularly invited to comment on tax issues by quality broadsheets (Financial Times, the Times, Guardian), magazines (News Statesman, Tax Journal, the Lawyer) and TV (BBC's Panorama, Channel 4's Dispatches).

Jolyon is a graduate of the University of Durham (LLB: European Legal Studies, First Class) and Birkbeck College, London (MA: Modern Literature, Distinction) and is a Queen Mother’s Scholar (Middle Temple). Jolyon has sat on the Bar Council's Equality and Diversity Committee for a number of years. Jolyon lectures and writes widely on tax policy matters.

Back to top